Dependent Origination Explained

The topic of Lama Jampa’s latest book, Patterns in Emptiness is described in its preface by His Holiness Karmapa as “central to an authentic understanding of the Buddha’s teachings”. His Holiness goes on to praise the manner in which Lama Jampa brings a fresh clarity to Buddha’s explanation of dependent origination within just 73 pages of precisely written text 

The first chapter opens with the following paragraphs:

Every culture – every system of thought – offers answers to the profound questions of our existence. “What is the source of suffering and what is the source of happiness?” “Why are things the way they are in the world?” “How best should we use our life?”.

Some find the answers in God or gods,. Some say there is a plan. Some say everything has come about through physical evolution or random chance and some say there’s no answer at all. In Buddha’s teaching, however, the answer lies in ‘dependent origination’.

Last summer, Lama Jampa presented his own extended commentary on the text at Dechen’s retreat centre in Dordogne, France. Introducing the topic, he emphasised that, since the sole aim of all Buddha’s teachings is the practical one of eliminating suffering and bringing about happiness, one should not see this explanation as merely philosophical theory. Like all Buddha’s teaching it serves a practical and remedial purpose..

Buddha’s exposition of dependent origination provides a complete explanation of the arising of samsara: how we experience the world. 

To help us develop an understanding of the meaning of dependent origination, we are introduced to concepts that we can relate to directly from our own experience and observations of how things come about. Thus, the journey to a fuller understanding begins with consideration of Outer and Inner Phenomena. In this context we are able to grasp the principle of causation: how phenomena arise out of interaction of causes and conditions.

Following on from this, the Lama proceeds to answer the key questions of existence by raising them in a systematic progression of increasing subtlety through succeeding chapters of the text. This succession of viewpoints mirrors the systematic structuring of the Buddha’s teachings that evolved over the centuries, since the time of the great Indian masters, such as Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti and Maitreya. In this way, the Lama has not needed to look anywhere other than to the original teachings of Buddha for the substance of his presentation. 

The culminating chapter of the text shows that, while the interconnecting links of dependent origination give rise to samsaric experience of the world, exactly the same process can be harnessed skilfully to disassemble samsaric experience.  The Lama explains how this is done in the Vajrayana so that, through its practice, the already present state of nirvana is revealed to us:

Nirvana arises in dependent origination upon the total purification brought about by the path.

Finally, in the last chapter of his text, Patterns in Emptiness, Lama Jampa opens a summary of  the teachings with the following inspiring paragraphs.

As we begin to experience the dependent nature of the world, though taking the teaching of dependent origination to heart, a sense of lightness and ease develops. We begin to develop a sense of acknowledgement that our existence in the present is part of a continuity, which is both karmically and, as mediated through one’s parents, human and cultural.

Yet, at the same time, the reality in which birth and death are dissolved, is naturally present at all times in the flow of dependent origination that we call ‘life’. So, freedom from whatever burdens we might carry from the past alongside its treasures is always available, but, at the same time there is no need for resentment, since we need not be imprisoned by it.

Patterns in Emptiness is published by Rabsel Publications (ISBN 978-2-36017-013-5) and can be obtained at major book stores or at A French version of the book, Des Arabesques dans la Vacuité was also published by Rabsel earlier this year.

Please note that posts in this blog are not intended to represent full accounts of teachings given by the Lama. They focus on particular aspects of teachings that the authors think may be of interest to people coming new to the Dharma, and other fellow students. They represent the understanding of the authors who bear responsibility for the content. Please address any comments to